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Alleged shooter of RPD assaulted in Robert Prestley Center

by Mary Shelton Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2002 at 4:09 PM

A group of Hispanic inmates entered into a day room and attacked Steve Woodruff and his cellmate. The question remains, why were six electronic doors inside the jailhouse left unlocked?

By Mary Shelton

A group of Hispanic inmates assaulted Steve Woodruff at the Robert Prestley Detention Center, authorities have said.

The attack that took place on Feb. 8 left Woodruff with cuts and bruises, but the issue was raised immediately as to how the inmates were able to gain access to a day room, which was supposed to have been locked at the time Woodruff and his unidentified cell mate were using it.

According to Woodruff's defense attorney, Mark Blankenship, the six computerized doors that separated the inmates from Woodruff were all left open or unlocked, allowing the inmates to enter the day room where Woodruff was, and "beat the crap out of him." Correctional deputies responded to the incident, but used a "blow" gun on Woodruff's cell mate who had also been assaulted by the Hispanic inmates, he said.

"There must be fail-safes on jail doors," Blankenship said. "How could six doors be left unlocked, at one time?"

This incident is the latest involving a pattern of civil rights violations against his client who is awaiting trial in connection with the death of Riverside Police Department detective, Doug Jacobs, Blankenship said. Since Woodruff's arraignment on capital murder charges early last year, he has experienced mistreatment from correctional officers and inmates inside the jail that houses him.

Glass and human saliva have been placed in his food, privileges including access to phone calls have been denied and deputies have written him up for incidents that are groundless. Blankenship also said that Woodruff was denied access to a doctor to examine and treat chronic injuries he had suffered as a result of being hit by a car several years ago and has been denied adequate pain medication since.

Blankenship and other individuals on his defense team visited Woodruff in jail after being notified of the incident. When Blankenship passed notes to his client through the correctional officer on duty, the officer tried to read them, claiming that he was looking for contraband, even when Blankenship asked him to stop by exerting the lawyer/client privilege.

"I'm not confident that I can have a confidential conversation with my client at all," he said, adding that his conversations with Woodruff at the detention center always take place in an area where correctional officers could monitor them.

Woodruff's problems with his jailers began as soon as he entered the Detention Center, after being arrested in connection with Jacobs' shooting over a year ago.

He was not allowed to call his relatives for days. When Blankenship investigated the situation, he said at first the jail officials denied there was a problem, then the phone privileges were restored, though his client still has periods of time when he can not use the phone.

Blankenship said that Woodruff has told him that there was ground up glass placed in his food, and that he could see human saliva in it as well. Deputies in jail have been baiting his client constantly, in hopes that he would respond with violence, he said.

Blankenship explained the deputies' actions by saying that they were doing them in the hopes that any violence exhibited by Woodruff in custody could be used as evidence against him during any possible penalty phase in his trial, in order to show any propensity for violence that he may have.

Correctional deputies have also written up Woodruff for many alleged incidents including one where they wrote that he was saving empty milk cartons so he could use them to gas inmates.

"With what," Blankenship asked, in response to that allegation.

Deputies have also made comments about Woodruff and his relationship with his fiancee, who is Hispanic. On at least one occasion, they asked him, "What is a Black man like you doing with a fine woman like her?" His contact with her has been cut off, Blankenship said.

Last summer, at several trial readiness conferences, Blankenship had raised the issue of his client's mistreatment in the jail to the trial judge, Christian F. Thierbach, who also supervises all the court facilities in Riverside County. Thierbach said that while he was sympathetic to the situation, he did not have any authority over the county's jail facilities and that Blankenship should pursue any redress for his client through civil means.

Parthenia Carr, Woodruff's mother, is housed inside the same detention center as her son, has spent her time isolated and has experienced mistreatment as well, Blankenship said. She is currently serving a year in jail after a jury convicted her of two misdemeanors during her trial last summer.

"The people who work in jail are not much different than the people who are housed there," he said, "They just get to go home at night."

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department did not have much to say about the incident, except that an altercation between Woodruff and "several" inmates took place in the dayroom, and that Woodruff and his cellmate suffered minor injuries. A media representative at the detention center had even less to say, admitting that he was not even aware that the incident had taken place and had no knowledge about it at all.

Woodruff's trial is tentatively scheduled for next month. He has been charged with the murder of Jacobs and the attempted murder of officer Ben Baker, who recently retired from the police department after working there for less than three years. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The charges stem from a Jan. 13, 2001 incident that began with a neighbor's complaint about a loud radio owned by Carr and ended with Jacobs' shooting, which occurred while he and officer Baker were trying to place handcuffs on Carr and her son, Claude Carr, who had intervened in the situation involving his mother and Baker.

Blankenship said that he is ready to go to trial. "I've been ready," he said. "They are the ones who think I haven't been ready."

NOTE: According to an unidentified inmate, Steve Woodruff was recently examined against his will by a jail psychiatrist to be evaluated for allegedly being suicidal. Then, his cellmate was removed from his cell. His trial is currently scheduled to begin on March 19, if he lives to see it.

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